I always think of my father, uncles, and grandfather on this day. But I don’t have the luxury of forgetting once this day is over.

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Photo Credit: Bill Friedrich.

This post originally appeared on Facebook.

This is a photo of my Dad, taken in 2010. He’s retired now after serving over three decades with the Chicago Fire Department. Both of his brothers, and their father before them, served with the CFD. It was their job, every day, to save lives. Even if it put their own in danger.

I always think of them on this day. On this day, 17 years ago, 412 emergency response personnel died responding to the September 11 attacks. 343 of them were fighters (including one chaplain and two paramedics). While everyone else ran out of the buildings and away from the scenes, these men and women ran in. They helped an estimated 13,000-15,000 people evacuate, saving the lives of the evacuees at the cost of their own.

My father remembers that day. He remembers the heightened state of security in downtown Chicago, because at the time nobody knew if there were other planes in the air with other targets. He remembers every one of his fellow firefighters waiting for the call that would summon them all to make the same sacrifice the NYFD made–a call that, thankfully, never came.

I always think of my father, uncles, and grandfather on this day. But I don’t have the luxury of forgetting once this day is over. My cousins and I as kids always knew, instinctively, that our fathers one day might not come home. But we never asked them not to go. If they stayed home, people died. It’s literally that simple.

No one asks my father to walk out onto the field at sporting events.

No one puts his face on the Jumbotron and asks a crowd to pay their proper respect with wild cheering.

No one offers him a discount at stores.

No one stops him on the street or in restaurants to thank him for his service.

And still he served, for three decades, saving lives.

I am the son, the nephew, and the grandson of firefighters–people who did not hesitate to look Death in the face, who stole people right out of Death’s hands, who understood the full and terrible meaning of the word sacrifice, who had more courage than I have ever known. Not a single day goes by that I’m not struck by just how incredible they were–and still are, even though they’re all retired and are nowhere near perfect (sorry guys). I don’t know how many people’s lives they directly saved–I’ve never asked, and I wonder if they themselves know, if they even kept count.

The next time you see a firefighter out on the street, or in a store, or eating at a restaurant, or at a community event: thank them. Thank them for the legacy of the 343 firefighters who died on this day 17 years ago. Thank them for their selflessness. Thank them for saving lives. They don’t work for the thanks, but they’ll appreciate it. And so will we: their children, their nieces and nephews, their grandchildren, and their great-grandchildren.

God of earth and air, water and fire, height and depth, we pray for those who work in danger, who rush in to bring hope and help and comfort when others flee to safety, whose mission is to seek and save, serve and protect, and whose presence embodies the protection of the Good Shepherd. Give them caution and concern for one another, so that in safety they may do what must be done, under your watchful eye. Support them in their courage and dedication that they may continue to save lives, ease pain, and mend the torn fabric of lives and social order; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
–Prayer for Emergency Workers, Evangelical Lutheran Worship, p. 85.

Featured Image: “CFDoor” by Eric Allix Rogers is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

This is a photo of the door of the firehouse in the neighborhood I grew up in. The red and green lights flanking the door come from the maritime tradition and appear on most Chicago firehouses and apparatus.

A Pastor with Depression

The stigma around mental illness in the church, even in progressive churches, is crushing.


I promised myself months ago that I wouldn’t write another post until I had written this one; and I wouldn’t write this one until I’d done something about it. Now I have. Since I haven’t posted since April, it’s taken me a long time.

The news came out a few days ago that the lead pastor of Inland Hills Church in Chino, California, completed suicide after battling depression and anxiety for years. It sparked a new round of conversation among Facebook friends about the challenges pastors face and the rising percentages of professional church leaders who report suffering from and being diagnosed with depression and anxiety. I know what they’re talking about.

I know, because I am one. I am a pastor diagnosed with depression. I see a counselor and I take medicine to help manage it. For a long time I was afraid to seek help, even though I knew I needed it. The stigma around mental illness in the church, even in progressive churches, is crushing.

As short as it is, it’s taken a long time to write this post as part of a process of overcoming the stigma associated with depression. I’ve mentioned my depression a few times in the last few months, but haven’t talked much about it openly. It’s time to.

What’s it like to be a pastor who suffers from depression?

  • It’s waking up every morning and wishing you could stay in bed rather than go to your office to work on a sermon.
  • It’s feeling your heart jump in your chest when the church door opens because in your depression you assume that the person coming in is only there to tear you down.
  • It’s being paralyzed when you try to schedule a social home visit because the idea of spending an hour or more pretending to be okay in front of someone whose attention is completely on you is an unbearable thought.
  • It’s getting to the end of worship and not being able to remember any of it.
  • It’s having holes in your memory of pastoral care conversations.
  • It’s staring at a blank screen that should be your sermon in the early morning hours on Sunday because sermon writing used to be your passion, and now, it’s sometimes impossible.
  • It’s lying through your teeth every time someone asks how you are and you say “Fine”, because you’re a pastor, and you’re not allowed to be anything else.
  • It’s having to fight through every bad day without support because to openly admit you’re struggling with depression is to invite people to question your effectiveness as a pastor.
  • It’s crying whenever you say/sing Morning or Evening Prayer and not knowing why.
  • It’s trying to provide pastoral care to others suffering from depression and leaving feeling like you need the same thing, and it’s not available.
  • It’s getting angry at the advice to “just love the people” when you can’t even love yourself. (Same thing with “love your neighbor as yourself”)
  • It’s feeling your relationships with the community, the lifeblood of your ministry, slowly fizzling out, because maintaining those relationships takes more energy than you have.
  • It’s not being able to talk to God because you feel like a failure, and you don’t want to hear God confirm it.

I feel most of these every day. Learning to get through them is an ongoing process. Some days, I take steps forward. Some days, I take steps back. Counseling and medication help. They really do. It’s a long road ahead, but every step counts; every step matters.

If you think you might be suffering from depression, please seek help. Check if your employer participates in an Employee Assistance Program that can help you find a counselor. Ask your doctor about different options, including counseling and/or medication. There is help.

Featured Image: “winter.depression” by Gerald Gabernig is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

A Fallen Ranger

Some may read this and scoff. How can people mourn the death of someone they never met?

On Saturday February 17, 194 people gathered to remember a friend who died. Almost none of them had met the man. Some only knew his name. Others were there to support their friends.

And it all happened through the Internet.

Fourteen years ago, in 2004, I started playing Until Uru. UU was the bones of what was supposed to be Uru Live, a multiplayer Myst game. It never got off the ground, but the company behind it released the code for others to run their own servers, and the game took the name Until Uru.

I’d never played an online game before. But I got connected to the Guild of Greeters, a group of players who’d taken it upon themselves to welcome new people to the game. I started hanging out with them whenever I logged in, and eventually joined their group. For years I helped new players to the game and enjoyed every minute of it. Unlike other online games, in UU, you didn’t play a character, you played yourself (“you are you”, or “URU”, as the community would say, though that isn’t what the word actually means). Eventually, when more funding became available, UU became Myst Online: Uru Live. When that was canceled, it returned as Myst Online: Uru Live Again. And the community still struggles on.

Members of the Guild of Greeters when we met at Mysterium 2006. CAGrayWolf (David) is on the bottom left.

In 2006, I had the opportunity to go to Spokane, Washington, with my cousin Max to visit the game company’s headquarters for a fan gathering. There, I finally got to meet in person many of the people I “knew” in the game. And I did know them. Online communities do connect people. We talked about life and got to know each other pretty well. I finally had faces to connect with names like Ayli, Allmyst, Devonette, Rex Havoc, Ja’de, Tyion, SuperGram, AnnaKat, Goldenwedge, Papa_Smurf, Tomala, CAGrayWolf (some I’d met earlier when the fan gathering was held in Chicago). We ate together, saw the city together, went geocaching and got lost together. It was like meeting up with friends you haven’t seen in forever, and it was an experience I’ll never forget.

And then CAGrayWolf died.

I’d only met him once in person, at that gathering. David had been sick for a long time, and we all knew it. But it’s hard to see that stuff when you only communicate in text. David had been planning the next fan gathering up until just a few days before he died. A fund was set up with a wolf rescue organization he loved so those of us who wanted to show our love and support.

Even though it was a friendship cultivated over text and the Internet, for many, the death of CAGrayWolf was difficult. Some knew him much, much better than I did. They were good, personal friends. Everyone knows what it feels like to have a friend die. It was the same way when Shadowcats died a couple years later. Richard had also been sick for a long time, and his illness finally overtook him. Their names, along with the names of other players who have died, are listed on a memorial that still stands in the Kahlo Pub in MO:ULa. People still visit that memorial to see the names of their friends they’ve lost.

This is not a phenomenon restricted to MO:ULa of course. In college I began playing a game called Lusternia. There are memorials to the players Visaeris, Vathael, and Rhaffe, who all died after I started playing. And, in Lord of the Rings Online, 194 people just gathered last week to remember Sevak, Ken, who loved his game and the community in it.

Some may read this and scoff. How can people mourn the death of someone they never met? We don’t question this when it’s a national hero or celebrity we’ve never met–everyone mourns when they die. But for some, the idea of cultivating a friendship or relationship online is ridiculous. It can’t be done. It’s not a “real” friendship, relationship, or community.

They’re wrong.

Community takes many forms. I’m thankful for the communities I’ve been lucky to be a part of–especially the online communities that connect people from all over the world. They’ve helped me through hard times, opened me up to different view points, cultures, and ideas, and challenged me. They’ve provided places to celebrate and places to mourn in ways the church has yet to fully realize in its own communities. I wouldn’t be who I am today with them and the people in them. And I’ll miss them all when they’re gone.

Rest in peace, Ken. Say hi to Richard and David for me.

Dedicated to: Sevak, Rhaffe, Vathael, Visaeris, Pehpsee, CAgraywolf, Shadowcats, Aquila, Grassie73, Sil-Oh-Wet, Myst’Aken, Terra, Ron Hayter, GLO, Jahuti, Wamduskasapa, Perlenstern, Mo’zie, jmb30321, Zardoz, JDrake, Katzi, oldmanjob, Ramsine, Cindy Farrar, Dust’ei, Gandhar, Flyboy, and Josef Riedl.